Newsflash

Kinders give $15 million

Kinders2Houston philanthropists Rich and Nancy Kinder have gifted $15 million gift to Rice University to support expanded research in Houston and in major cities around the world by Rice’s Institute for Urban Research. The institute will be renamed the Kinder Institute for Urban Research in their honor.

“Thanks to the vision and generosity of Rich and Nancy Kinder, the Institute for Urban Research has the resources, leadership and academic strength to become the leading center for the study of the changing demographics and broader social issues facing all major urban areas," Rice President David Leebron said. “With this support, we can take another major step toward fulfilling our goal of being fully engaged with our home city of Houston, as well as serve as the locus of an international discussion of emerging urban issues.”The gift will support a number of research initiatives, including:

• In March 2011 the institute will conduct the 30th Annual Houston Area Survey — the          nation’s longest-running study of any metropolitan area’s economy, population, life experiences, beliefs and attitudes — and issue a special report and book on the three decades of research.

•  In April and May 2011 the institute plans to conduct the third Houston Area Asian Survey, which will reach a representative sample of 500 Asian-American residents of Harris County who will be given the option of doing interviews in Vietnamese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Korean.

• As part of a new multidisciplinary Global Urban Initiatives project, the institute will coordinate a significant transnational research effort in collaboration with colleagues around the world to conduct the equivalent of the Houston Area Survey in cities such as New York, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Argentina and Mumbai, India.

By developing comparable measures of the attitudes and beliefs of urban residents on issues like immigration, the environment and outlooks on the future, the institute will be able to explore systematically the similarities and differences in the perspectives of area residents in comparison with other major coastal and global cities.

Rice established the Institute for Urban Research in its School of Social Sciences in February by bringing together two existing centers: the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life and the Urban Research Center. Sociology professors Stephen Klineberg and Michael Emerson co-direct the institute. 

“Generous, rigorous and committed to excellence and to making a difference are words that best describe Rich and Nancy,” said Jim Crownover, chair of the Rice Board of Trustees. “Their goal is to understand and address root causes of problems, and they use their resources and talents to make Houston a better city. Their association with Rice makes Rice a better university.”

“We are huge believers in Rice, a world-class institution,” said Rich Kinder, who is chairman and CEO of Kinder Morgan, one of the largest pipeline transportation and energy storage companies in North America. “We have tremendous respect for Stephen Klineberg and Michael Emerson and their accomplishments. This is a unique opportunity to position the Institute for Urban Research to serve Houston and Rice and to be a resource for coming generations of American cities.”

Rich and Nancy Kinder co-founded the Kinder Foundation to support education, urban green space and other quality-of-life issues.

Art for Cancer Network

Among prognostic tests, blood workups and chemo regimens, doctors at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center can now request a session with a professional artist on their patients’ charts.

Inspired by her belief of the transformative power of art, Jennifer Wheler, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics at M. D. Anderson, founded the 501c3 non-profit organization COLLAGE: The Art for Cancer Network in 2006 to bring innovative art programs to people living with cancer. 

COLLAGE brings local artists to M. D. Anderson to work with cancer patients in a variety of mediums, including collage, digital photography, shibori (fabric painting), Chinese ink art and watercolors through in-hospital workshops and an artist-in-residence program. To date, COLLAGE has reached over 1,000 patients, family members and cancer care providers.

Programs are designed with the needs of different patients in mind. In the Palliative Care Unit at M. D. Anderson, artists capture and transcribe patients’ visions into painted, drawn or video taped works of art because many have advanced disease and are not able to make their own.

Wheler, who has a degree in art history and worked in a Manhattan art gallery before deciding to attend medical school, brings her own perspective to the program.

Dr. Wheler says, “As an oncologist, I witness firsthand the hardship and suffering experienced by cancer patients. Drawing on my background in art, I was inspired to merge the disciplines of art and medicine to create dynamic programs to support patients and their caregivers. 

“I founded COLLAGE to provide innovative arts programming to people living with cancer. With the early support of M.D. Anderson President Dr. John Mendelsohn, and further support from The Menil Collection, Dr. Eduardo Bruera, Dr. Razelle Kurzrock, Susan French and Laura Fletcher (among many others at M.D. Anderson and the Houston community), COLLAGE has, in a short period of time, established pilot programs that have been enthusiastically received by participants and family members. Our programs include art workshops led by talented Houston artists and an Artist-in-Residence Program where artists work one-on-one with patients in waiting rooms, in hospital rooms and in treatment areas. To date we have had over 1,000 participants in our programs. The feedback has confirmed my belief in the power of art to transform lives.  

“Often participants will say ‘I am not creative’, or ‘I haven't done art since I was in fifth grade.’ These same participants often create the most wonderful work, and then return for further workshops — having artists work with them to tap into their creativity is a remarkable thing to witness.

“COLLAGE has been a tremendous source of satisfaction for me, and I feel privileged to be doing this work.  The benefits for participants are as varied as the artwork they create,” she concluded.

Laura Fletcher of Sarasota, FL moved to Houston in 1996 to attend Rice University for graduate school. Recently, someone very close to her passed away from brain cancer. While volunteering at the Menil Collection, she learned about COLLAGE and decided to take a class.

“I enjoyed being part of the class and seeing how the instructors inspired the patients. It also gave me a chance to express some of what I was feeling. The classes made it possible to get the hard-to-verbalize feelings all out.

”Karen Boyce Eckhardt, a three-year cancer survivor, attended her first COLLAGE class December. “I had never held a paint brush in my hand before going to a COLLAGE class, never painted as a child,” says Fletcher.  “I remember feeling freedom when I did this painting because it was done standing rather than sitting. I felt very fluid and free.” 

She continued, “I write fiction and poetry for a living and am always striving to paint with words, I figured why not try to so the same with a paint brush.” 

Wheler, who works with breast cancer patients enrolled in Phase I clinical trials testing new targeted therapies at M. D. Anderson, plans to develop research measuring the impact of COLLAGE on patients’ quality of life.

Friendless on Facebook

With the jubilance of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” playing in my mind, I dipped my hosted onion ring into a tasty pool of ranch dressing. This was a moment to savor – collecting on a lunch bet from my long-time friend, Tony. During our nine-year history of pitting our baseball or football teams against one another, this was one of my few victories. My triumphant mood, though, was quickly erased like yesterday’s box scores. Replacing it was the awkward feelings of a skinny fifth grade girl standing on the volleyball court anxiously waiting to be picked.

The waitress had just refilled our iced teas when Tony said, “I looked you up on Facebook.” In between bites of his cheeseburger he added, “You have one friend.

”Choking down my last bit of onion ring, I hurried to explain that I’d joined to contact a friend I’d lost touch with. Outwardly, I blamed Vicki, my one and only FB friend, for the embarrassment. Inwardly, those four simple words – you have one friend – sat on my stomach like an expanding weight, daring me to defend my popularity. Savvy Internetters thought that my lifetime of experiences had yielded one lone friend. An off-the-cuff observation reduced me from a confident wife and mother to an insecure 10-year-old whose happiness was measured by the width of her circle of friends. 

I thought it was pretty amazing that I had any presence on this phenomenon of a social-networking site. I’d heard of Facebook. My sons, Shawn, Jake and Seth, had MySpace pages, but until lunch that day, I never saw the value of getting involved. Tony’s cavalier comment had launched me, head first, into the intricacies of online communities. For days I surfed the web, clicking, searching and tinkering my way through the sites. Before I knew it, I was writing on Tony’s wall, re-tweeting posts on Twitter and uploading links. I also learned that the reasons people join these sites are as varied as the folks themselves. After sending out some friend requests and joining an alumni group, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else had hitched up to quell their elementary school ghosts. 

In my urgency to prove that I was a likeable sort, I’d stumbled on an instantaneous way to stay connected. Years ago I swapped the daily workplace security for the freedoms of being a stay-at-home writer. With that change came the realization that I missed my co-workers and our daily impromptu discussions about last night’s episode of 24 or what movie isn’t worth the 10-bucks-plus-popcorn ticket. The chats about kids, cars and diets that I took for granted as part of my workday now come to me via an anytime cyberspace coffee break.

I get status updates from my colleagues, my cousins and everyone else in between. This morning I learned “25 Random Things” about Fran, my godsister in Pittsburgh; where Jane, my gal pal in St. Louis, went for her birthday dinner; and how many points my 10-year-old nephew, Zach, scored during his basketball game in Sacramento.

Usually my posts are innocuous – a home decorating victory, a recent challenge of being a mom, a book recommendation. But last month, when our family made the difficult decision to put our sickly 16-year-old spaniel mix down, I turned to Facebook. I wanted to express my grief and let everyone know how special this soccer-playing dog was to us. Within moments I had posted a farewell to Max — photos and all. Seconds later, and for the next several days, condolences and comfort streamed electronically into my home. 

Courtesy of my broadband connection, job changes, geography or jammed schedules aren’t hurdles to staying in touch with people who – in big or small ways -- have enriched my life. They’re now a part of my day, and I have a new place — and an avatar —in theirs. At last check, my Facebook friends’ list has grown to 86. I’m following 54 people on Twitter and about 70 folks follow @ClaireFlaire. I’m LinkedIn. I have a blog. And, I have Tony, my second FB friend, to thank. Who knew that winning a hamburger could be so rewarding? 


Claire Yezbak Fadden, an award-winning columnist and freelance writer, is the mother of three sons. E-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

City Hall Fellows

A unique opportunity to participate in Houston city government has been given to 10 recent college graduates. All have been named City Hall Fellows for 2009-10.

They include Rachel Deason, Christopher Gustafson, Sara Mansur, Minh Nguyen, Rachel O'Shields, Lauren Rosales, Mercedes Sanchez, Ted Wieber III, Elisabeth Wilkins and Lindsay Zwiener.   

City Hall Fellows was founded in 2007 by Bethany Rubin Henderson. Her goal was to create a national service corps of recent college graduates who spend a year serving in and learning about how to create social change through local government in their own home communities. Currently, the program is offered in only two cities, Houston and San Francisco, and this year, over 500 applications were received. Just 16 were named City Hall Fellows.

In addition to showing a strong connection to the host city, the Fellows were selected because they display academic achievement, strong communication skills and leadership qualities. Participants hold degrees in various disciplines and majors, but all are civic minded.  

Zwiener attended Rice University with a focus on political science, policy studies and health sciences.  

She said, “I applied for City Hall Fellows to further develop my understanding of both local government and the policy process. I have done academic and policy research, and I was interested to see how policy is implemented at the local level.

”After a three-week orientation, the participants spend 4.5 hours a day working as special project assistants to local senior government administrators or officials. The rest of the day continues their training in the Civic Leadership Development Program. Under the guidance of Nancy Brainerd, the Houston program director, the Fellows learn about the structure of city government, including budget, regulatory organizations, policy-making processes  and the relationship  between local, state and federal government. Guest speakers, site tours and reading assignments complement the hands-on work experience of the participants, allowing them a base of knowledge and network to become effective local leaders.

O’Shields, who majored in political science at Houston Baptist University, said, “I am looking forward to the contacts I will gain throughout the year, and I have really enjoyed the impressive array of guest speakers we have been fortunate enough to host thus far.”

The program aims to place the Fellows in a variety of agencies throughout the city, not just high-profile political offices.  The placement process matches the city government’s needs with the Fellows’ skills, ensuring a varied work experience for the group.

Wilkins, who majored in psychology and sociology at Houston Baptist University, is working with the Parks and Recreation Department. Her job is to help the city establish a comprehensive and reliable methodology to count the number of park visitors and to obtain certain demographic characteristics of the citizens visiting our 369 parks.

Sanchez attended Southwestern University and majored in economics. She is working in the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, in the Anti-Gang Office. MAGO assists youth, young adults, families and communities in the prevention of gang involvement and juvenile delinquency through a tri-fold strategy that focuses on prevention, interventions and suppresion.

Mansur graduated from Brown University with a BA in international relations. She is working in the Office of Special Projects for the City of Houston. This office focuses on the city’s environmental sustainability and energy efficiency projects.

Rosales, who earned a BS in biology and a BA in psychology from the University of Houston, said, “By learning more of the potential avenues for careers as a public servant, I aspire to discover a direction for my passion of serving others while growing as a person.”

In terms of scope of impact and brand recognition, Brainerd hopes the City Hall Fellows program will continue to attract applicants such as this and reach its goal of becoming the next Teach for America. 

More information on the program can be found at www.cityhallfellows.org.

Nikki Rosenberg is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

Lessons of Ike

It was just over a year ago when Hurricane Ike howled through the Houston area, slamming commercial property and houses, toppling trees and power lines and causing a mass exodus from Galveston and coastal communities. Despite the damage and flooding, the storm also left behind something that local officials are taking to heart: lessons learned in how to deal with the next storm, from preparation to improving relief and restoration efforts once the storm blows through. 

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says the county has wasted no time, and lessons learned are already in place. First and foremost, he says, is improving communications with elected officials in smaller communities – especially those hardest hit along the coast. 

“It’s incumbent upon the county to make sure they have what they need in advance,” Emmett explains. “We did okay, but it could have been better. I didn’t have all of their cell phone numbers, for example, as the storm was coming in, and we were calling for evacuations.” 

He also says Harris County should provide help to surrounding communities that don’t have as many resources, like hard-hit Chambers County. Another lesson is what Emmett calls a “personal lesson” learned by him and his staff – namely, to have rested staff take over once the storm passes. 

“We need what you might call a second wave or second team to be ready to come in fully refreshed,” he explains, “and not have some of the same people who have been up three or four nights in a row already to immediately take on the relief effort.”

Improvements already in place before Ike are the lessons learned regarding massive evacuations during Hurricane Rita – the powerful Category 5 storm that was on track for Houston in 2005, but missed. 

“One reason the evacuation of Ike went so well is because the evacuation of Rita went so poorly,” notes Emmett. “Now we have contra-flow lanes in place and cameras on all the highways.”

Improvements also include having small traffic contra-flow changes in bottleneck areas such as on I-45 in Conroe and along I-10 towards San Antonio. 

“The plans for dealing with the storm are so specific that we can literally tell you what reserve constable should be at which intersection,” he adds.  

As nervous residents tuned in to local news broadcasts as Ike approached, Emmett calmly urged Houstonians to “hunker down” during the Category 2 storm – a phrase that has since received national attention.

“With all the preparation leading up to Hurricane Ike, we all had memories of Hurricane Rita, where people got stuck on the highways for hour after hour,” Emmett explains. “One of the reasons is a lot of people evacuated who shouldn’t have evacuated. They needed to stay in place.

“For two years, this office and all offices of emergency management in the region have been saying, ‘run from water and hide from wind,’ ” he adds. “If you’re in danger of the storm surge, then evacuate. Otherwise, stay where you are, wait for the storm to pass and then you can always leave.” 

CenterPoint Energy, the utility company responsible for delivering electricity to Houston area customers, played a major role in Ike restoration efforts. The hurricane had knocked out power to 2.1 million of CenterPoint’s 2.2 million customers – only the Medical Center and Downtown still had electricity. But through precision planning in advance, CenterPoint restored power to 50 percent of customers in five days, 75 percent in 10 days and to all customers within 18 days. Priority went first to infrastructure for safety and health, including hospitals and police and fire departments, then major circuits supplying large numbers of customers, and finally secondary and smaller lines with fewer customers. CenterPoint brought in about 11,000 out-of-town workers – mostly linemen and tree trimmers – from 35 states and Canada. 

“Our infrastructure held up rather well, but we had a lot of damage from trees being uprooted and debris being blown onto the power line,” says Rhonda Welch, CenterPoint’s Director of Distribution Dispatching. “Tree crews would clear the right of way and make the line safe for the line crews to put it all back together.” 

What would CenterPoint do differently next time? Two changes in particular – setting up more staging sites for crews and equipment and improving communications via the Internet and local media. Staging sites are large holding areas like racetracks or fairgrounds where out-of-town crews park their large line bucket trucks, where management efforts are conducted and where workers are fed.

“We need large areas to have solid footing in case it rains during this time, so we don’t end up with a swamp and trucks getting stuck,” says Scott Prochazka, CenterPoint’s Division Senior Vice President of Electric Operations. “So we have to have facilities that can accommodate hundreds of vehicles that can be parked and moved in and out on a daily basis.”Nine staging sites were set up during Hurricane Ike; something Prochazka wants increased to 16. 

“We could be even more efficient to help with the restoration time if we were to increase that number,” he says, noting more staging sites would reduce travel time for crews, especially with inoperable traffic lights causing additional congestion.   CenterPoint is enhancing its website to improve communications.

“We’re trying to provide better information to customers, so they’ll have a clearer picture when we’ll provide restoration to their homes so they can plan accordingly,” Welch explains. “The website last year had just a basic model. The upcoming will provide a better range of dates when we can restore service to an area.”  

The improvements include using a so-called translator to tie in circuits to specific neighborhoods and streets. 

“They’re not set up by zip codes; in fact, many power lines cross zip codes while many zip codes have multiple power lines in them,” explains Prochazka. “This translator – technology we’re adding – will help translate more effectively between the power line outages and language that consumers can understand such as neighborhoods, streets and addresses.”

CenterPoint’s Ike restoration costs, which the company filed with the Public Utility Commission, amounted to $678 million. The figure includes repairs, labor, manpower and equipment purchases to replace damaged equipment. 

“That’s a pretty sizeable hit – it was the most the company ever spent on a major storm,” says Prochazka. 

Regarding distributing food, ice and other supplies, the state recently designated that the county judge make decisions about where to place points of distribution – decisions that Emmett says would be made in conjunction with Houston city officials and others. The county also wants to work with volunteer groups who would take supplies from distribution points to bring back to their own communities – especially to residents who don’t have cars. 

“We’ve been meeting with the Houston Food Bank and some of its support groups,” says Emmett. “A lot of private groups put up their own points of distribution and we’re all for that. If we know where they are, we can put ours in places that supplement them.”  

Emmett says ice distribution was misunderstood after Ike, noting it should be distributed early to preserve food and medicines when electricity is out. 

“I think we’re going to have to do a better job of explaining the purpose of ice – that it’s not just for convenience,” he says. “Ice was never meant to be handed out on the west side of Harris County to keep drinks cold.” 

What other lessons were learned from Hurricane Ike? 

“We learned and solidified that the value of preparation is very high,” says CenterPoint’s Prochazka. “Having relationships with other utilities and community leaders so we have open lines of communication. And we learned the value of what our employees can do when they’re called into action.”

I think we’ve learned the importance of communicating to customers – the importance of having their own personal plan to take care of their families and their belongings during a hurricane,” adds Welch. “Also, the importance of education concerning tree issues including power lines, easements and trees falling onto power lines.”Judge Emmett, however, may have learned the best lesson yet.“My solution for hurricanes is to just cancel the season from now on,” he says with a laugh. “If I could get away with just canceling the season; I really don’t want to go through another one again.“But we’re ready for it,” he adds.

Richard Varr is a staff reporter and free-lance journalist. Previously he spent 14 years as a FOX26 reporter.

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